The AT-6 Texan

I have decided to add a new section to my blog that talks solely about the history of aviation. I have grown to really enjoy and appreciate the history of airplanes over the last several years and this seemed like the most logical way to consistently bring what knowledge I have learned to others to enjoy. Every Thursday I will be writing some form of review of a different aircraft highlighting everything that I can think of from development, to service, and to todays usage. With that in mind, it took me a while to decide which plane to start with. I have had the great fortune to have photographed so many great aircraft, that many have become favorites of mine. As some of you might recognize this plane, I decided to start with one of the first planes that I photographed and was in fact the first aircraft I ever did an air to air shoot with. This is the North American AT-6 Texan.


This is the AT-6 Texan, redesignated the T-6 in 1962, one of the most used and collected warbirds that exist today. The T-6 was designed as an advanced trainer aircraft during WWII and was used at some point by almost every serviceman that went through the US Air Corp. After completing basic training on the biplane Boeing Stearman, pilots would go on to advance training where they would learn to fly mono wing planes such as the Vultee BT-13 Variant and AT-6 Texan. Afterward depending on the proven skill set and placement they would go onto either single engine training school or multi engine training, basically separating the class into fighter pilots or bomber pilots. The AT-6 played a pivotal role in training pilots being one of the first training aircraft they flew with metal surfaces, hydraulic flaps, retractable landing gear and .30mm machine guns mounted in the wings for aerial and ground gunnery practice.


The T-6 was such a popular aircraft that 34 countries signed contracts with North American for planes of their own. 15,495 T-6’s were built to supply the orders from the other countries as well as the US. Throughout it’s service the aircraft has been known under several designations: the USAAC and later the USAAF designated it the AT-6 until 1962, US Navy designated it the SNJ and the British Commonwealth air forces designated it the Harvard, which is its best known name outside the us.

Due to the T-6’s ease of maintenace, low cost and large production, it has become one of the most popular warbirds collected today. Unlike fighters or bombers which had a relatively short lived life expecantcy overseas, the T-6 lasted long past WWII and was used during Korea as a trainer for the US. It never saw front line service as a fighter for the USAAF but it was used by other countries up through the 1970’s as a fighter plane. With its Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-1 Wasp radial engine, 600 hp (450 kW), the plane was capable of speeds up to 208 mph. This later changed as the planes performance was enhanced for racing. The T6 gave pilots the ability to do rolls, Immelmanns, loops, spins, snaps and vertical rolls which was partly why it made for such a good trainer. This later allowed the plane to be very versatile in aerobatic roles at Airshows.


Seen here is a row of T-6 trainers at EAA Airventure Oshkosh from 2011. Because they have such a low cost to fly they have become such a staple in airshows that it is actually hard to find an airshow that doesn’t have at least one T-6 around. Amongst the most famous group of Airshow performers is the famed CAF Tora! Tora! Tora! group which uses several replica Zero and Nakajima “Kate” Torpedeo bombers which are all modified T-6 Texans.


One of the great historical aspects of the T-6 is all the different paint jobs that the plane had from going to so many different countries and being used for so many different squadrons. This particular plane is based out of Honolulu and is owned by a nice man named Bruce Mays. His T-6 is painted in honor of the USS Saratoga. These are the aircraft markings of a plane that would be stationed on that carrier. Back in 2011 I had the great privilege of lying with Bruce and my Dad on an air to air mission with his T-6 over Pearl Harbor. Being such an iconic spot in WWII history, and with such few warbirds actually on the island, this was by far one of the most fun and satisfying air to air shoots that I have ever been on. The only slight challenge to the whole matter was having to fly in a Cessna 172 in the back seat shooting through the plexiglass windows. Nevertheless the images and story were all worth it. Not to mention his T-6 looked absolutely gorgeous in the morning light over Oahu.


While the T-6 makes a great photo subject, and in my opinion is one of the best warbirds to practice air to air photography with, it is also one of the best photo platforms to use. With a good range in speed, again low cost in fuel consumption, and high rate of availability, the T-6 is one of the most sought after photo platforms, especially those with the reversible rear seat allowing the photographer to shoot straight back.

In 1920 Ralph Pulitzer sponsored the Pulitzer Trophy Race to establish publicity for his newspaper and aviation. The races later moved to Cleveland where they become known as the Cleveland National Air Races, which lasted until 1949. The races were put on hold during WWII but resumed afterward. They initiated a special class after WWII just for the T-6 Texan. That class continued on to the Reno National Championship Air Races, which started in 1964 after the Cleveland races were shut down. Today the T-6 class at Reno is one of the largest classes of competitors, including fan favorites like #6 “Six Cat” owned by Nick Macy with six gold medal wins to his name and #43 “Midnight Miss III” owned by Dennis Buehn with five gold medal wins.


This here is Dennis flying his beloved Midnight Miss III back in 2013 at Pylon Race School. Dennis was the start of air to air photography for both myself and my Dad and has been a friend of ours ever since. He showed us that not only are the planes really cool but the pilots are a breed of their own. One of the most important lessons they teach is not about history, but that life can be over in a blink of an eye so enjoy every minute of it. Dennis continues to race his team of aircraft, further influencing those in the warbird community. He has owned and rebuilt over seventy T-6’s in his life which makes him one of the true experts on the aircraft.

The T-6 Texan, SNJ or Harvard if you prefer, is one of the main stay aircraft of the warbird community. If ever there was one cornerstone aircraft that all pilots have at one point or another, flown, it was this one. If it were not for this plane many of the brave men who fought in WWII may not have gotten as good of training as they got. Today these planes can be seen all around the world, and is one of the few planes that that can be said about. At museums all across the country visitors can go and see the T-6 and at a price can even go and buy a ride in one. I highly recommend that anyone interested in aviation go and see about a ride. It will get you hooked.

Photos taken with Nikon D3, D4, 70-200 VRII, 70-300 VR, 200-400 VR, 500 f/4 VR

A T6 with a Great History

The great thing about these airshows, especially the Air Races, is that you never know what planes are going to show up even with the list of aircraft they email out. Well one of the biggest turnouts is always the T6 class. T6’s have always been the most common of the warbirds because of there easy to maintain nature. These trainers have been used and continue to be used for all types of flying lessons and practice. They are also widely used for Airshow rides due to their low cost with fuel consumption.

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Over the last year we had another T6 at the races that was a bit of a new comer. Thanks to a couple of dear friends who happen to be historians at the races we have since learned that this particular T6 was used for combat in the Spanish War. It still has some of the original components that make it combat worthy, including the radar dish behind the canopy, machine guns in the wings and a hidden squadron mark. Now none of us now if the guns are real and were converted to display pieces only by removing the firing pins, or if they are fiberglass. Either way the barrels can be seen sticking out of the wings.

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The really cool feature is the hidden squadron mark which is hidden behind the silver panel underneath the canopy. We were told that the mark is in watercolor and that if it rains it would be ruined. Funny thing is even the historians weren’t entirely sure what the insignia looked like. Maybe it’s just me but i always find it amusing when the guys that know it all get stumped. It means that there are still mysteries out there.

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59 was a great subject flying around the pylons. We had one day of great clouds but diffused light which is never appreciated. The rest of the time it was good blue skies.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRII, Sunsniper Metal Strap, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Watch the Wings

Polished aircraft are a lot of fun to work with. Compared to aircraft with a fixed paint job throughout, any plane that has a polished aluminum surface naturally glows. It’s pretty obvious why, the metal reflects all light. Sometimes that’s good sometimes it’s bad. It can mean that you get more blown highlights along the surface. It also means that in almost any weather condition the plane is going to stand out. Of course the other benefit of polished is in post it’s really simple to make the aircraft pop. The white and highlight slider is all it takes in ACR.

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This particular T6 belongs to a friend down in Phoenix who was kind enough to let us photograph it one morning. It had just rained that morning and we were going out before the storm got worse. Now not every pilot is willing to go out between scwalls but when you work with the best one of the benefits is having that luxury. The rain didn’t hinder our flight and actually made for some great images by making the desert look more vibrant and richer by being wet.

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

How To Show Speed

It’s always funny to me when my friends pick through a movie and point out was is possible and what isn’t. I of course at times do it too. Well some of the areas they pick on are ones that are easy to explain in photography. For example; last week my buddy Al was saying how in the Matrix you wouldn’t have the spiral bands as the bullets fire from the gun and are stopped by Neo. Well it’s Montana, of course they pick on gun references. I simply said, “Do you know how hard it is to show speed?” Having spent some time around planes, it’s pretty easy to see just how difficult it is.

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Whenever out working with planes, whether an air show or private shoot, one of the few images I always try for is one with the plane flying by and there is enough information in the background to make it look like it’s going fast. That’s why at airshows Dad and I are always hoping for clouds. Clean, simple, perfect. Howard Hughes said it best when filming Hells Angels, “with no clouds we have no sense of relative motion.” As you can see with the two images i posted you can see exactly that.

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The top image is boring as sin, at least in my mind it is. There is nothing in that image, besides the prop, that tells the eye that the plane is moving. In the bottom image the background information provides the look of speed. To me having some form of ground as the background works even better than clouds. Ground and buildings have more details and thus more info to blur out. A good challenge is to find those spots at the airfield where you can get above or level with the planes. That way you can achieve a more dynamic look with less work.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D4, 600 f/4, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Finally Some Racing Previews

My apologies for the delay in posting anything from Pylon Race School, which took place a couple of weeks ago, but I was having “fun” learning a few new things about use with the D4 and CS6. I got to play with one for the first time at PRS and although different from my D3 the D4 rocked photographing planes. The buffer never seemed to fill which was great when tracking four or five planes going by at 100mph. The file size is the one thing I’m not quite used to. With every image being over 15MB, it definitely puts a whole new meaning to storage space.

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Well it was one great week. After last years terrible accident that resulted in 11 deaths and many questions to be raised over the safety of the Reno Air Races, it is with great joy to say that the races will be continuing. The support that the races have, not only from the volunteers and aviation community, but also the community of those in the state of Nevada is tremendous. More than once while there we were told just how great the support was from the fans.

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Over the years that my family has been a part of the Races many planes have showed and some have not. IT always seems to vary depending on the year. After last year we weren’t quite sure who would be showing up this time. Well a good number of Formula One, Biplanes, Sports, Jets and especially T6’s came to the Race Seminar. The only shortage was in the Unlimited Class which was a surprise to every one. Of course with economics involved nothing is ever certain. It was a good week nonetheless, with good planes, people and a few challenges.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D4, 600 f/4, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Great Group of T6 Performers

The T6 Texan has been a widely used plane ever since it was first made active in 1937. It was a basic trainer that most pilots used before graduating to heavy front line fighters like the F4U Corsair, P51 Mustang and P40 Warhawk. Between the time it was first introduced and retired from active duty in the 1950’s over 15,000 planes were produced. To this day it is still used as a trainer, show plane and of course a classic warbird. At Oshkosh this past July I had the privilege of watching the AeroShell Aerobatic Team perform over the field. It was an amazing performance, close formation flying with four T6’s, smoke and low passes. It is a group very much worth seeing.

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AeroShell Aerobatic Team


Images Captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

First but Certainly Not the Last

Well some of you might be wondering why if this is the first plane I ever photographed Air to Air then why did it take me so long to put up on the sight? Well the simple answer is a photographer you never know when an image is going to be needed for something and when should it be held in reserve. That was the case. The original flight shots, which this one isn’t, I had a plan for but now are not going to be used for that purpose. That happens.

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T6 Texan

Well the T6 Texan was the first plane i ever did an Air to Air with and it seems a rather long time ago even though it was only 2 years ago. The shot seen here isn’t from that shoot, this one was taken this past April at Fantasy of Flight during an Air to Air workshop. The plane actually belongs to Stallion 51 and we lucked into having it for the shoot, seeing as we were down one plane. It turned out to be one great shoot, the Texan was a great subject over the Florida landscape. But if you want to see some of the shots from the first shoot you’ll have to go to the gallery.

Images Captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 70-300 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Performing T6’s

Oshkosh isn’t just known for having hundreds of planes, tons of people, and way too much to see in one day. Oshkosh also has one great air show. It only lasts three hours a day but those three hours are jam packed with activity. Starting Monday the air show kicks off and one of the first performers are the Aeroshell T6 team. They are a very impressive team with some great acrobatic stunts.

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This is the first team of T6’s to use smoke. The only other T6 that i have seen to use smoke was done at Gillespie Field this past April. The addition of smoke can make for great shots. With a blue background it’s great with a grey background like we had on Wednesday, not so great. Personally i like the symmetry to of the planes. Those great formations always make the planes seem more impressive. Then again it takes some good pilots to do that kind of flying.

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This particular group were up a good twenty minutes which may seem short but is actually quite a while considering the amount of flying they are doing and the amount of fuel they are burning through. What will come next?

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Images Captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

An Historic Flight

One of the best flights that I have ever had, which isn’t saying a whole lot considering there will be so many more to come, was this past April when we did an Air to Air over Pearl Harbor and Ford Island. It was truly amazing flying over the place where the biggest and most awful war truly started for this country, Sadly; however, this might be the last non air to air to happen over Pearl because of the multiple air controllers and the activity Navy presence still at the Harbor. It was a great flight for me, one i will truly treasure. Hence why it is now in the Lost Posts section, so that the flyover will always be there.

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The Saratoga T6
Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200 VRII, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

At The End of The Day

After a good morning flying around in the 172, with Bruce, and his T6 it off for a fact filled quest to learn more about the island. Bruce is also a tour guide on Oahu and loves telling people about the history of the place. It was a long fun drive hearing about the different bases, runways, people that were stationed there and of course the preserved wounds that some of the buildings still have. Towards the end of the day we headed back to his hanger for a sunset shoot with his T6. It was a nice quiet air port with little traffic. We basically could put the plane anywhere we wanted which was very nice. Behind the plane is the original hangers and tower from the war. It seemed fitting to have them as a background for this great plane.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200, on Lexar UDMA Digital FIlm

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